In the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB) at Indiana University Northwest, you are your brother’s keeper.
That is a central tenet of SAAB, a growing national organization that brings together African-American males at colleges and universities for learning, guidance, fellowship, and support. The ultimate goal, according to Kenneth Coopwood, Ph.D., director of the IU Northwest Office of Diversity and Equity, is to help men succeed in college and in life.
“It’s not a social club,” Coopwood said. “It’s a holistic-development initiative, to help you get more out of your education. If you get involved and stay involved, you’re going to graduate.”
Universities across the country are struggling to address concerns about low graduation rates for male African-American students. Established by Executive Director Tyrone Bledsoe, Ph.D., in 1990, SAAB is intended to answer that challenge by giving black men on college campuses a support network of fellow students and mentors who can help them overcome the obstacles that often prevent those students from completing their degrees.
“The school that SAAB started with was Georgia Southwestern State University,” Bledsoe said during a Feb. 13 visit to the IU Northwest chapter. “At the time I was there as the associate vice president of student affairs, we noticed that the cumulative GPA was less than 1.8 for 180 black male undergraduates. That was the impetus that started SAAB.”
The brotherhood grew from a single campus group to a nationwide organization, based in Toledo, that now has 180 chapters in 36 states, with more chapters, some of them international, set to join in the coming months.
“We invite everybody to SAAB,” said Bledsoe, whose background and degrees are in education and psychology, and who left a vice presidential post at the University of Toledo five years ago to run SAAB full time. “We have white males, Latino males … there are Native Americans in SAAB. We want the culture to be embracing so that everybody feels a part and feels connected.
“This is serious stuff,” the founder said. “We’re talking about saving lives and salvaging dreams.”
Now in its second full year of membership, IU Northwest is part of SAAB’s only dual chapter, which also includes the neighboring Ivy Tech Gary campus. Its members are men — students and mentors from the two schools, primarily but not exclusively African-American – who come together regularly to offer each other knowledge, insight, assistance, and encouragement as they work toward their personal, academic and professional goals.
“I needed a strong group of brothers that I could be around that could relate to me,” said IU Northwest sophomore Michael Jefferson, a communication major who is the local SAAB chapter’s marketing and public relations officer. “And, on top of that, I needed someone to show me a little guidance. I was getting a little off track. My studies weren’t as good as they could have been, and my grades needed a little improvement. So SAAB helped me with all of that. It fixed all of those problems at once.
“I truly can say that this is one of the best organizations that I’ve been a part of,” the Gary resident said.
SAAB’s IU Northwest/Ivy Tech chapter was founded through a Lumina Foundation Grant, with matching funds provided by the universities. Alan Roger Currie is the program’s office coordinator and student advisor, and IU Northwest student Odunayo “O” Obajuluwa is the current president. Other Indiana schools with SAAB chapters include Indiana State University, IUPUI, and Calumet College of St. Joseph.
SAAB has also established a number of high school and middle school chapters, including several in East Chicago. Bledsoe encouraged IU Northwest and Ivy Tech SAAB members to reach out to members in these chapters and in the Calumet College group.
“This is the only joint chapter we have in the country, so this is very new for us,” Bledsoe said. “When we started this, I was really excited, particularly to see the two-year and four-year (college) connection.”
“It’s been a real benefit, because a lot of our advisors are from (Ivy Tech),” Obajuluwa said. “It’s been awesome having them with us.”
Accountability is a significant theme for SAAB. The group’s members and their mentors are expected to take responsibility for encouraging other members to attend regular meetings, ensuring that they have a way to get to meetings, and calling to check on those who don’t show up. Each meeting begins with a roll call and a discussion of the status of missing members.
“I believe -- and a lot of my committee members believe, too – that if we start holding each other more accountable, and the rest of the guys can see that they are cared about, then that is the pull that we’re going to have with them,” Obajuluwa said. “That’s what we want to be about, caring about the guys that are here.”
“It’s a point of purpose in your life,” Coopwood explained. “It’s about somebody expecting you to be somewhere, among friends and for a good cause.”
Indeed, Bledsoe touched on a variety of important practical topics during his visit, often citing examples from his own life as illustration. He emphasized to chapter members the importance of life insurance and general financial preparedness in the event of death, noting that he’d recently lost a cousin who’d passed without any insurance or arrangements. Bledsoe also discussed the relationship between appearance and professional success, pointing out that sometimes students’ career aspirations do not match their wardrobes.
“What we help brothers understand is that there has to be reality to what you say you want to do,” Bledsoe said. “How are you going to be a corporate lawyer, but you can’t appreciate wearing a suit and a tie?”
At IU Northwest, SAAB activities are not restricted by the academic calendar. Last summer, the chapter completed its first Summer Bridge program, in which eight incoming freshmen or incoming transfer students attended classes and seminars, received mentoring, and met with local business and community leaders. Those who participated in the three-week program received book stipends for the academic year.
“I had people from each academic department on campus come in and talk to them about academic requirements, and let them know about the various programs and degrees,” Currie said. “They got a good feel for the campus. They got to develop a rapport with a lot of people.”
The IU Northwest/Ivy Tech SAAB chapter has also taken an active role in the life of the campus and in the surrounding community. Members have taken part in co-sponsoring or otherwise promoting campus events, and this spring’s forthcoming community service project involves a cleanup of 35th Avenue between the two campuses. The group’s leadership and membership want to make SAAB’s impact felt at the university and in the community.
“We’re the only dual-campus chapter, and that’s what makes us unique,” Coopwood said of the IU Northwest/Ivy Tech chapter of SAAB. “And we’re both non-residential. So if we can do it, anybody should be able to do it, because we don’t have a captive audience."
For more information about SAAB at IU Northwest, contact Currie at (219) 980-7210, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.